I received an email newsletter from a friend recently that reminded me of a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago on the eve of launching our brand refresh. In it, I talked about connecting the dots – the moments in our lives that bring us meaning and value. There lie the nuggets of who we are and were meant to be. Jay is a coach who helps founders and entrepreneurs find their brand’s higher purpose through recounting the stories they tell. He pushed my thought further… “…shaped with intention… you not only connect the dots but become dot collectors and dot connectors.”
Two dots in my life came up. Those dots not only changed the course of my life but changed those of others. They are vastly different and incongruent, yet profoundly connected. One makes the other that much more purpose-full. And, somehow, they describe who I am and was meant to be far more explicitly than I could simply state. Here goes…
In the late 1980s, I was in college and in love. My boyfriend, a couple other friends and I decided to drive to Montreal, Canada from Cleveland, Ohio for a weekend. I wasn’t a big partier then but partook in some recreational marijuana while there. On our drive home, as we approached the border, my girlfriend sitting in the backseat blurts out that she has stash in the car with her. We were furious and became frantic. Should we throw it out the window or eat it? She wasn’t going to give it up that easily. So, we hid it in the bottom of a radar detector bag and stuffed the gadget over it. As we approached border control, the officer asked for our id’s. My girlfriend and I presented our American passports, our other friend his green card, and my boyfriend, his Lebanese passport and student visa. The man asked us to park our car and wait in the building while they searched it. You have to understand, back in the late 80s under the Regan administration there was the “War on Drugs” so we all knew what a serious offense this could be if we were caught.
As we sat on the other side of a high counter, an officer came back in fiddling with a plastic bag. While it was probably less than 1.5 grams worth of weed, we knew we were busted. He then asked us whose it was. No one answered. Then they took both men into separate rooms. I was scared for my boyfriend, and the waiting and waiting didn’t help. They brought them out and, again, the officer asked, “Who does this belong to?” No word from my girlfriend. Then he said, “If no one claims responsibility, it will be all your fault, and this one,” pointing to my boyfriend, “will be deported.” Immediately, I raised my hand and said, “It’s mine.” Then my girlfriend (finally) raised her hand and admitted it was hers too. Now, both of us were taken into rooms, strip-searched, and made to wait while handcuffed to a green bench. Why we remember these kinds of details…?
In the end, the two of us were driven to the countryside somewhere around 3 am and escorted into a room in a little house. An older man came in with his bathrobe, sat behind a desk and asked us how we pled. “Guilty.” While it sounds scary, everything was explained to us; we felt safe and had each other. We drove back to border control and had to pay a fine of about $500. We didn’t have the money of course, and called a friend who scraped up the cash and drove out to us. And that was that! Of course, my boyfriend was incredibly grateful and felt indebted to me for life. Our destinies were bound at that moment when I raised my hand.
Fast forward 27 years (June, 2016). I am working through an international adoption process from Morocco that had already taken 2.5 years of back-and-forth paperwork, home studies, doctors’ visits, financial verification, finger printing, etc. and was nearing the end of the approval process. After calling several times, I email to find out the status and received an email back asking me if there is anything I am leaving out of my form…? At that point, I wasn’t sure if Officer Higgins, who was handling our case, was insinuating, prodding, or just checking in. I recount the marijuana story to my husband as I had completely forgot about it and hadn’t reported it in the paperwork under the section on prior criminal convictions. I then recount an abbreviated version of this story to her over email. A couple of weeks later, we receive a letter denying our application for adoption.
I’m not sure what got into me at this point. I had sort of dragged my feet with the forms over the prior couple of years and my husband even questioned if I was really interested. In the denial letter it asked us to show the records of the conviction, an explanation of what happened, notify our home study agency and social worker of my conviction, and send a revised application form.
I was on a mission. I had just come home from an exhilarating trip to Madagascar where Numi had installed 24 water wells for turmeric farmers who had never had clean water in their lives! Another transformative moment in my life. Because I was so jet-lagged and was up every morning at like 4 am, I waited until 6 am and called every county clerk’s office along the Canada/New York border.
I couldn’t remember what highway we took across the border, let alone what year it was. Clerk after clerk couldn’t find my name in their system; in those days there were only paper records (no digital) and they threw away all minor offenses. I called one courthouse and spoke to a judge who was so kind and understanding, but they found no records in their system either. In trying to figure out where I may have crossed, he called his clerk who had been there for 30 years. She asked me what the judge in that bathrobe looked like. Finally, I Facebook-messaged my old friends and asked them the road and year this happened to us. Luckily, my guy friend confirmed the highway we took, which just so happened to be the same jurisdiction of the judge I had spoken to the day before. And when I called him back, he had the idea to call the border customs office and immediately called me back with the date of my infraction.
I resubmitted all the forms with a lengthy statement and letters from each courthouse I had called stating they couldn’t find any record of me in their system. And then… 2 months later… I received another letter… Denial to adopt! I called Officer Higgins. I will never forget it… I was driving to work and just thought that day, let me try… I got her on the phone and drove onto the shoulder of the highway to stop and focus on our conversation. I asked her why they made me do all that work if they knew beforehand that we would be denied. She said because I was filling out the forms and didn’t state my conviction, I knowingly lied. I explained to her again what had happened almost thirty years ago; how it wasn’t even mine. How I was trying to protect my boyfriend. That I was so young and oblivious; I didn’t even know it was a conviction. How I was a proactive member of society. And that I don’t do drugs.
Pause… and then she said… “Do this: resubmit a new application form from scratch. You will get a new file number. Put my name on the envelope so it will land on my desk.” I had to reiterate, “So you are saying, start the process again with the I-600A form? Fill in my possession of marijuana conviction, attach my home study? New file?” “Yes!” And, so I did. 2 weeks later, we received our Notice of Approval of I-600A. I emailed Officer Higgins and thanked her. I also asked her for her first name because certainly I was going to name my child after her. She wouldn’t give it to me. Official.
Six months later (after going through another exhaustive process on the Moroccan end), we adopted our baby boy. He was 5 weeks old when we were matched and 5 months old when we took him out of the orphanage. Almost 5 years later, he is a thriving, happy little boy.
The reason I write all this is not because I want to disclose the private details of my life (although, now too late), but to show how life itself has purpose. Sometimes you don’t know why things happen. When you are called on to do remarkable things, oftentimes surprising even yourself, your true nature is revealed. These are your unique gifts.
What I know about myself through these two seemingly separate dots are this: I leap. And, when I leap, I really leap.Sometimes towards trouble, but even those things that weren’t good for me were good for me. I am loyal to a fault. I protect and make sacrifices for the people I love. I take risks, am short-sighted and often don’t think about the consequences of my actions, especially if I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. When I am challenged, put in a state of adversity or pressed to make a decision, I shine. These situations bring me fortitude and resolve. And, finally, I am meant to be the adoptive mother of Ziad Hassani.
So, perhaps, destiny does really exist. Or better put, what if we let go of our idea of destiny? Maybe, if we followed our hearts at every moment, we will be “called” on to fulfill who we are destined to be.
Maybe it’s all happening to us ON PURPOSE, now and now and now and now?
Co-Founder & Chief Brand Officer, Numi